OT Encounters: Ezekiel 34 – The Good Shepherd

By Jeff Pulse

The Old Testament text for this Sunday, November 26, 2017, comes from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. The text is Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, which is one of the best-known chapters from this book. Chapter 34 begins with a strong admonition against the evil and wicked “shepherds of Israel.” In these verses (1-10), the litany is of all the things these false shepherds do or do not do and how they bring harm to the sheep. This is a frequently used text for ordinations/installations of pastors as it details what NOT to do! Then the chapter moves immediately into our text beginning at vs. 11 as the LORD God declares that He Himself will shepherd His sheep. He will seek them out; He will rescue; He will save; He will gather them in. In other words, the Good Shepherd will take care of His own sheep. The final part of the pericope (vs. 20-24) speaks of the judging between sheep. This change of focus moves us from all the sheep being gathered/rescued (all of Israel) to the distinguishing between the fat and lean sheep (believers and unbelievers). Ezekiel provides language and context that is both Messianic and Eschatological. While the immediate fulfillment might be the return from exile for the people of Israel, the foreshadowing of the prophecy points us to both the first and second comings of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Credit must be given to H. Hummel and his Ezekiel Commentary, vol. 2 in the Concordia Commentary Series.

34:11 Hineni—ani—literally: “Behold me! Even I (it is I)

           Wuviqartim—root: baqar—piel: “to look after; seek”

Note that the wicked/false shepherds are gone and only the LORD’s work is mentioned.

34:12 Kevaqarath—root: baqar “caring for; seeking”

           Niphrashoth—root: parash—niphal: “to be scattered”

Note “The Day of Clouds and Thick Darkness” is equated with “The Day of the LORD.”

34:14 Bemireh—tov—“in good pastures” The positioning of this phrase at the beginning of the verse emphasizes the location more than the feeding.

        Wuvharey merom yisrael—“the mountains of the height of Israel” Note the plural for mountain.

         Tirbatsnah—root: rabats “to lie down” (see hiphil form in vs. 15 where the LORD causes the sheep to lie down)

34:16 Hanidachath—root: nadach—niphal: “to be dispersed; scattered; outcast”

           Chabash—“to bind up”

           Shamad—hiphil: “to annihilate; destroy”

Note that all the actions of the Good Shepherd/the LORD are in direct contrast to the actions of the false shepherds in vs. 1-10.

34:20 The LORD judges/separates between the fat and the lean sheep. This reminds us of Matthew 25:31-46, which has definite eschatological meaning. Instead of berating and punishing the false shepherds, now the LORD is separating/purifying His flock.

34:21 Tehdophu—root: hadaph—“to push away; shove; thrust”

           Tenagechu—root: nagach—piel: “to gore; push; thrust”

           Hanachloth—root: challah—niphal: “to be weak; diseased”

           Haphiytsothem—root: puts—hiphal: “to cause to disperse; scatter”

34:23-24 Note the use of Davidic/Covenantal language, which, of course, is Messianic in nature. Hummel notes that “one could almost construct an Old Testament Christology” from these two verses alone. This “New David” will manifest the power of the LORD and will not set himself in opposition as did the false shepherds.